By Steve Weinstein
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Harlem's crack-slinging bad boy cleans up, puts New York rap back on the map
Rocky is adjusting his grill in the mirror. He sports an all-black outfit with the same white snap-back he wore to the previous night's release party. Producers rush in and prep him for the interview. He's the first musical guest since the set was redesigned. Be excited, they tell him. Be animated. Hit on all the guest spots on the record to illustrate its diversity: Kendrick Lamar, Florence Welch, Santigold, Skrillex, Danny Brown, Drake. Rocky's an expansive rapper. Bigger than New York. The producers want him to show it. Talk fashion. They're going to show him outfits from the BET Honors Red Carpet, and they want him to critique them. (Halle Berry is a hit. He would have "tossed some jewels" on Luke James's suit. He "can't get jiggy" with Lisa Leslie's dress.)
He's led backstage. As we wait, his "Fuckin' Problems" blasts over the sound system. Rocky stands stoically, listening to the rabid crowd rap along to every single lyric. The music fades, and Rocky heads out to meet the hosts. He spins and plops down on the couch, and the audience chants "A$AP, A$AP, A$AP" over and over. He leans back, throws his arms out, and flashes his grill.
From there, it's into the van for a ride downtown to meet Hilfiger—and a quick snooze en route. Once he's conscious again, we talk about the new record. Not wanting to say "the same shit" he did on the mixtape, he paid particular attention to the lyrics this time around. Then he emphasizes over and over again how he wants to do it all: make films, direct music videos, make music, explore fashion. He seems like he wants to control it all, but he also feels misunderstood.
"Everything. My outlook on life. I want everybody to get along, all generations. Fuck religion. Fuck color. Fuck all that shit," he says. "People don't understand that. If I had fear, I don't think I'd be this creative. I think motherfuckers just be on. I think most rappers be like that. That's why they don't make music worth listening to. I want to make sure people always feel like I'm giving them 100 percent."
That's what Rocky does. He sees what others can offer and how he can use their talent to accomplish his vision. Long.Live.A$AP features guest spots from artists all over the music spectrum. He is a twentysomething raised on the Internet, one who creates art unconfined by geography. His music might come from a certain location (in this case, Harlem), but it pulls roots from all over the country: Purple-juiced Houston beats, Bay Area arrogance, Atlanta flow, New York obstinacy. And then he mixes it all up again, pulling other styles from other influences and other regions.
"He's perfectly on the zeitgeist," says LA Weekly columnist Jeff Weiss. "He took all these ideas and put them in a way that's polished. It's a good product, and so is he. People say, 'Oh, it doesn't sound like New York rap.' But New York rap should not sound like it did in 1999."
Rocky, through his obsession with music and fashion and art, has become his own brand. And he knows it. And he's not shy about it. "I feel invincible," he says at one point.
We're getting out of the van now, and Rocky is on the way into the hotel to meet Tommy Hilfiger about that "fashion shit." Before he darts away, I ask him about success and fame and if he thought he'd get to a point like this. He smiles.
"I always hoped so," he says. "I always thought that if they got a load of me, they would fuck with me because I'm better than most of the cats in the game. All I want is my credit, man. I just want to be an icon."